Urban Spaces: Perceived, Constructed, Lived

A multi-sensory case study of two urban neighbourhoods in Western Tokyo regarding the nexus of individual perception and social construction of public spaces


This thesis aims to shed light on the perception and construction of urban spaces and on how this process is enacted in Japan. Though academic output on urban spaces is flourishing, topics that are located in between established disciplines have garnered far less attention. Within these less researched areas lies the nexus between individual perception and social construction of space. The topic is to be exemplified by analysing two urban Tokyo neighbourhoods (Shimokitazawa and Meidaimae), which are located close to each other and may seem quite similar on a city map. In both areas, city planning projects as well as the modification of private railway tracks triggered discussions about how existing – and perhaps new – public space should be used, and who is entitled to advocate for it. Inhabitants, shopkeepers and consumers share the streets, but perceive the space from different angles and participate in divergent but overlapping discourses.


  • 明大前
  • District: 松原1丁目 + 2丁目
  • Inhabitants: 6101 | 0,285 km²
  • Railway crossing: Keiō Linie and Keiō Inokashira Linie


  • 下北沢
  • District: 北沢2丁目
  • Inhabitants: 2509 | 0,185 km²
  • Railway crossing: Odakyū Linie and Keiō Inokashira Linie


The interdisciplinary approach requires a mixed set of methods that includes:

  • participant observation
  • sensory walks
  • semi structured interviews
  • discourse analysis

Preliminary Results

While city planners and local administration mostly focus on residents and their opinions as well as business owners and their demands, employees and consumers are ignored or excluded from participative forms of city planning. However, the conducted media analysis demonstrates that consumers are the driving force in shaping the public image of city quarters, and, furthermore, constitute the majority of public space users. This fragmented field of discourses is widely overlooked in the current research, yet it provides key insights into how the discourses of social space is constructed. Tentative analysis of the data gathered during the first fieldwork period (2014 – 2016) reveals that the differences in spatial practices and discourses on space show a clear coherence with the matter of sensuous and mediated perception. Besides disputes over property and land between authorities and locals, the misunderstandings based on divergent conceptions of space lead to conflicts regarding the use of public spaces and the creation of new urban spaces.

Map references from left to right

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